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Graphic Novels Extravanganza

November 20, 2009

After today’s post and Sunday Salon, I’ll only be one review behind. :D That’s a good feeling! But today I have ten graphic books to talk about. But, I’m awful at trying to review graphic books, so this will be probably be a pretty short post.

I think I’ll talk about the standalones first. Gray Horses by Hope Larson was another book I got to during Dewey’s read-a-thon. I loved this one-the artwork was kind of dreamy and wonderful-it had a sketchbook feel to it and had lots of purple and grey and white. It’s about a girl adjusting as an exchange student, and it’s partly in French. I think Larson captured culture shock perfectly, and the main character was lovely. I think I read this in about ten minutes, so it’s a very quick read. But one you could reread several times and always find something new! I highly recommend this, and I’ll definitely be reading more of Larson.

Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki was completely different from what I expected, but I really enjoyed it. It’s about a young Canadian Japanese Catholic schoolgirl, who’s a bit goth, a bit into witchcraft, and just trying to survive in the craziness that is high school. The plot meanders here and there, but I really enjoyed it. It’s a classic coming-of-age story but with a counter culture main girl. Another one I’d highly recommend.

I loved the nonfiction book Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. In fact, if there’s one book I’d recommend to those skeptical of the graphic format, this would be it. It’s a look at the history of comics, the philosophy of comics, etc. that couldn’t be done in any other format. I loved how integral the drawings were. I loved how intelligent McCloud was, and how intelligent he made me feel. I loved that he called the Bayeux tapestry a comic strip (although I had encountered that in Alice in Sunderland too, another of my fave graphic books). I highly, highly recommend this to everyone. Seriously people: read it.

I didn’t enjoy La Perdida by Jessica Abel that much, but I think the fault is mine. You see, I’m a bit of a priss. I don’t do drugs, and while I don’t think drug-users are bad people at all (I went to a small liberal arts college. I was one of only two people I know of who graduated without trying them at least once, lol), and I’m actually pretty pro the legalisation of marijuana and all that, I think people who start dating drug dealers and going to parties with sketchy drug lords are just stupid. The narrator of La Perdida decides to move to Mexico City for no real reason, and once there she leads an aimless kind of existence. She gets really caught up in trying to have ‘authentic’ friends, etc. and while at first I was like ‘this is cool-this is what living abroad feels like,’ eventually the narrator made so many dumb decisions and was so ridiculously oblivious to what was going on around her that I stopped caring. And she’s self-righteous and whiny and made me want to slap her on a regular basis. I strongly considered abandoning the book every time I picked it up, but I told myself it might get better. Meh. Not really. But I know a lot of people are fans of Abel (and the drawing itself was nice), so if you’re more forgiving of really stupid main characters who bring disaster upon themselves, you’ll probably enjoy this one-the story itself is well paced. I just never really connected.

Now on to the series. I read Bill Willingham’s Fables Vol. 3-5 during Dewey’s read-a-thon. Officially, they’re known as Storybook Love, March of the Wooden Soldiers, and Mean Seasons. If you’ll recall, I really enjoyed the first volume of Fables, but the second was too bloody for me. Fortunately, these three were all pretty fun. I can’t be specific without giving away spoilers for earlier seasons, but Mean Seasons was my favourite because one of the storylines is all cute and domestic-y. That being said, I still don’t really like the art in the series. But the plot and characters are so awesome, I can’t wait to read more. :)

Finally, I reread the second two volumes of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: Dream Country and Doll’s House. I had heard that the art was redone for the Absolute Sandman edition, so I got volume one from the library. It turned out to be repackaging of the original Sandman 1-3, so even though I’d read those, I decided to reread 2 and 3 (I loathed volume one so much, I never intend to even flip through it again). I didn’t notice any difference in the art for the actual stories, which disappoints me, since I don’t like the original stuff at all. It was nice to reread the stories though, since I had forgotten most of The Doll’s House and I actually loved a couple of short stories in Dream Country the first time round. It’s difficult for me to speak coherently about this series, since others have said it gets much better later, and that’s great. But I strongly dislike the art-the colours, the ridiculous bodies the women have, and the way that their clothes are always half ripped off. But then volume three gets good, and I’m hoping everyone’s right and I’ll start enjoying the later books more. I’ve put the second volume of Absolute Sandman on hold at the library, so we’ll find out. ;) (I know this isn’t super-positive, but I think the Sandman series has won so many awards and accolades it doesn’t need me, lol.) Also, I think I should warn you that one of the stories in Dream Country has a very disturbing rape scene in it. The rapist is portrayed as the horrible person that he is, but it’s still nauseating to see/read.

Do you have art preferences when you’re reading graphic books? How strongly do they affect your enjoyment of the story?

24 Comments leave one →
  1. November 20, 2009 1:25 pm

    I liked Grey Horses and Skim, too, but I’m terrible at reviewing GNs. I had to do a similar post recently that just reviewed a bunch together.

  2. November 20, 2009 1:26 pm

    “But I strongly dislike the art-the colours, the ridiculous bodies the women have”

    What do you mean by “ridiculous bodies”?

    I like most of the art for the series, although I think it might have been better if it had one artist for the entire run. Just to keep the a consistency about it.

  3. olduvai permalink
    November 20, 2009 2:45 pm

    I felt the same way about La Perdida. I kept wondering if I should just give up but ended up finishing it, to my disappointment. Meh indeed!

  4. November 20, 2009 3:00 pm

    Well, there are some manga that I’ve read purely because of the art was so beautiful.
    Both Skim and Gray Horses seem really interesting, unfortunately it seems that neither is available in any library here. :(


  5. November 20, 2009 3:35 pm

    Well I’ve never read a graphic novel unless you count my skimming through some of the Manga my son used to buy. What would be a good suggestion for a newbie like me to try for my first one?

  6. November 20, 2009 3:46 pm

    I dont think that I have read a single graphic novel… well not for a good ten or so years anyway. I am racking my brains and cannot think of a single one. I shall use this list to rectify the situation.

  7. November 20, 2009 3:48 pm

    I find my library doesn’t have a large selection of graphic novels, so I never get to read that many. It looks like you had a really good collection here.

  8. November 20, 2009 5:29 pm

    I’m not much for graphic novels, but I do have all the Sandmans..I’ll read anything by Gaiman, a prince among men ;)

  9. November 20, 2009 8:59 pm

    I am with you about the art on Sandman – some volumes are just gorgeous, and some I do not care for at all. As far as writing goes, I like Season of Mists (the fourth one) a very very lot. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think!

  10. November 20, 2009 9:18 pm

    I’m bad at reviewing gns so I rarely do. My only preference when it comes to graphic novels is that they’re not drawn too “cartoonish”.

  11. November 20, 2009 10:01 pm

    I’m so glad you’re telling people to read Understanding Comics: I agree, I love that book and think anyone skeptical should read it!

    I haven’t read enough graphic novels to comment on the artwork. I think it’s just a different experience like picking up a different author is. Sometimes I don’t like the author’s writing style but I can still like a book. I would think GN are similar. But like I say, I”ve only read like 5 ever, so need to read mroe…

    Not sure I’m interested in Sandman or Fables, though. The fantasy premise isn’t appealing, but I wonder if the artwork on the covers turns me off them too.

  12. November 20, 2009 10:11 pm

    I’m not experienced enough with graphic novels to have a whole lot to say or to really understand what my preferences are. At a very basic level, I either need the story to be good or the art to be good in order to enjoy the book. Of course, it is better if both the storyline is great AND the art is fantastic! But I can appreciate parts, or aspects, of just about any book even if I don’t enjoy the whole. I recently read the graphic version of “…Miss Finch” by Neil Gaiman. It was OK; mostly I enjoyed the experience of slowing down and viewing the graphics as a part of the storytelling. I have a few other graphic novels lined up to read soon: Mouse Guard Fall 1152, We3, Chiggers, and two of the Fables series. I’m hoping to learn more about my preferences in this genre

  13. November 21, 2009 3:08 am

    I almost picked up Skim at the library last week. I think maybe I saw it reviewed before on Kailana’s blog. It looks really good. I have Dream Country at home. I’m one of those that love the series, but I’m also a big fan of Gaiman. I also have Storybook Love at home too. I’m thinking I’m working over the Thanksgiving holiday (nights) and I’m going to have a lot of time to read. I think I might make it a Graphic Novel Extravaganza on my own!

  14. November 21, 2009 5:39 am

    I remember seeing Understanding Comics in my library , will try to pick later today when I go to library.

    I have started Fables. First one was quite good.

  15. November 21, 2009 1:58 pm

    Amanda, that makes me feel better that I’m not the only one at a loss w/ graphic books.

    Uenohama, ridiculous bodies=Barbie proportions. :)

    Olduvai, I’m glad you agreed with me! I thought something was wrong w/ me, lol.

    Tiina, that’s interesting-manga’s totally foreign to me. I just read my first one (QUeenie Chan’s The Dreaming Vol. 1) earlier this year. Sorry your library doesn’t have them. :(

    Kathleen, I’m not an expert by any means…but maybe Shaun Tan’s Tales of Outer Suburbia? It’s almost like a picture book for adults though (there are words unlike in The Arrival) so maybe not typical GN. But I asked some friends on Twitter, and they tossed out Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. It’s a literary memoir about Bechdel coming to terms with her sexuality, as well as her crazy childhood in a funeral home, and her dad’s issues. It sounds depressing, but I really loved it. :) Oh, and I really enjoyed Incognegro-a mystery/thriller set in 20s south w/ a very light African American man passing for white.

    Savidgereads, I just tried them for first time last year, and only really started reading them semi-regularly this year. All because of book bloggers! Pre-blogging, I thought it was a euphemism for er*tica, lol.

    Vivienne, that must be frustrating! My library has a great graphic books collection-I think it’s the YA librarians who order them.

    Mrs.Fidelius, really? See, I LOVE Neil Gaiman-I’ve read all of his novels/short story collections except The Graveyard Book and Odd & the Frost Giants, but I’m having a hard time getting into the Sandman series.

    Jenny, yay-that’s the next one, so now I’m really excited!

    Vasilly, I prefer the non-traditional comic book art. I love ones that feel like sketchbooks!

    Rebecca, your review of Understanding Comics was so much better than mine! Lol If you love fairy tales, I think you should give Fables a try-it’s not as fantasy-ish as Sandman. And it’s clever w/ literary allusions.

    Terri, I read Miss Finch too and wasn’t a big fan of the artwork. But I agree it was neat to see a short story presented that way. Chiggers is by Hope Larson-I hope it’s wonderful! :)

    Stephanie, it is really good! I’m a huge fan of Gaiman as well-just not Sandman, lol.

    DocShona, I hope you love it. :D

  16. November 21, 2009 2:55 pm

    I have just started La Perdida (it’s the last in my Graphic Novel challenge list) and now I’m curious as to what I’ll think of it.

    I really enjoy graphic memoirs and travelogues, so I’ll have to look into Gray Horses – I’d not heard of it before. Thanks!

  17. November 21, 2009 4:28 pm

    really? Granted I haven’t read the comic for a while but I can’t remember any of the female characters or even the male ones having barbie/muscled bodies. do you think you could give me examples…

  18. November 21, 2009 8:43 pm

    Hi Eva, Thanks so much for the recommendations! I’m looking forward to trying one of these in the near future. One of my goals for 2010 is to try some different genres so reading my first graphic novel is a great way to start!

  19. November 21, 2009 9:48 pm

    Hmmphf! Bummer about La Perdida. It actually doesn’t sound like one I’d like either, but she did win me over with the weird/coolness of Life Sucks. From the sounds of things Life Sucks is a whoooole different ballgame.

    And I’m glad you loved Understanding Comics. I made my ENG 101 students read an excerpt from it this semester, and they really liked it for the most part.

  20. November 23, 2009 1:03 am

    gray horses sounds really good! i am a sucker for french-related stories, and the fact that it’s partly in french makes my heart melt. i need to get myself a copy.

    i always enjoy your reviews. they are so thorough. and even if something isn’t to your liking, you are quite diplomatic.

  21. captainmordinary permalink
    November 24, 2009 1:48 pm

    I’d really like to ask a question/favor of you and some of your readers.

    I’m working up a sample syllabus in hopes of landing an adjunct gig teaching an Adolescent Lit class (grade 6-12 focus).

    I’m asking for recommendations –including graphic novels — on my blog,

    As a teacher and voracious reader, I have read quite a lot of YA novels, but I like to have lots of information so that I can present as good a reading list and develop a nicely-rounded class.

    Thanks so much! I lurk a lot here, and I really enjoy this blog.


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